Hot Bite Coming!

Hot Bite Coming!

With the USACE predicting a two-foot rise in River level over the next week the stage is set for fantastic fishin’ in the weeks ahead. Over 3″ of rain muddied waters downstream from tribs, but the rising water also pushed much clearer water into backwater areas that load from downstream, esepcially those on south end of River mainstem islands.

We’ve been at or near historic low levels for over a month, limiting access to thousands of acres of very productive water. With the River rise we will be able to safely navigate to these areas again.

There are also countless migration corridors away from the main channel which fish push through as river levels rise or fall significantly–just like a monster buck moving from bedding areas to high quality food sources in very cold weather.

The most important survival drive for fish is the predator/prey relationship. Fish will follow their food source. The food source will stick close to escape cover to keep from feeding the next link up the food chain, while chowing down on targets of opportunity.

It takes me at least an hour to figure out fish location and activity level every single day. A major key when looking for species like bass or walleye is figuring out what they are eating and how to avoid other predators that are trying to eat them.

Birds can be tremendous bird dogs! This is especially true as forage species lose escape cover as weeds begin to die off. Herein is a whole ‘nother blog. For this one, just remember to watch the birds instead of your rod tip–sometimes.

Water temp, clarity, mud, bubble or bug lines are also key when reading the Immortal River. Subtle changes in current reveal a tremendous amount of info on fish location. For the past month these subtle queues have been on the river mainstem due to low River levels. Going forward th ability to “read” the river applies in backwaters and running sloughs.

Recently I guided a nationally known angler who wanted bluegills. Bluegills often stage on or near rocks in the River mainstem in late summer with low water levels. We started at a place where I boated a limit of quality fish in 48 minutes just the day before when out prospecting for the trip with him. The hot ticket was a 1/8 oz drop shot presentation with a tiny ice fly 8-10″ inches up the line.

We only boated a couple decent fish in 20 minutes. I noticed the drop shot sinker wasn’t allowing seductive placement of the fly due to a slight increase in current.

Reading the bubble line just 20 feet further upstream it looked like there might be just a little less current. We moved 20′ and spotlocked. He caught gill after gill until he had enough and wanted to go chase bass.

There was an area not far away where bass were crushing small minnows tight on the rocks–same reason gills were nearby: FOOD!!

A 3″ paddletail in shad pattern was what these bass were after. He hooked up on the first cast. Twenty minutes later we agreed to move on if he went 10 casts without hooking up. We were there for over an hour.

Not trying to brag, just illustrate how subtle little changes in location/presentation can make a world of difference. Sophisticated electronics can CONFIRM you hunch on fish location–but old school “reading” the River is often what it takes to get into the ballpark.

There is only one way to develop this skill set: time on the water! Don’t think I’ll fish today. the fish need time to figure out where they are headed. Well, maybe I won’t fish until this evening. Humidity is near 100%. This means the static tension on the surface will be high. should be a 3’+ bubble trail behind a buzzbait.

Think I’ll start where the bass & pike should be and tweak location/presentation accordinly. If I find ’em they likely won’t be there tomorrow. But it will be a good place to start!

Seasonal change

Seasonal change

Last weekend the skies were overcast with heavy, dark clouds for a solid three days. By Monday morning water temp had dropped from 78 to 76. by Tuesday it tumbled four more degrees to 72–not just on the River mainstem, in quiet backwaters, over 5 fow too…on a sunny afternoon.

I’ve kept a fishing diary for over 40 years. For the past 20 years many entries have been on Miss. River pool 9 where I work as a guide when not ‘fun fishin’. Pool levels on Aug. 1 haven’t been this low since 2006. In that year water temp dropped to 72 on Aug. 24.

Profound siltation since ’06 on the pool has changed the paradigm of fish behavior in profound ways. I’m no scientist. Just an old River Rat. It is what it is. Let’s go fishin’.

When water temp drops to 72 many aquatic weeds start to die off. The most obnoxious of these is eel grass, which comes down the River in bales til almost freeze up, limiting lure presentation and even location options to show fish the hook.

We’ve had to factor in eelgrass for 3 weeks on pool 9 for 3 weeks already. Almost a month earlier than the general norm. Is this due to siltation? Dunno.

For the past several years when water temp drops to 72 there has been a profound panfish bite in remaining green weeds in the backwaters which continues into early October. As of yesterday the pannies hadn’t showed up yet. Maybe because of low water levels. Dunno. It is what it is.

I’ve had trouble finding active jumbo perch lately. Only got into ’em a couple times. Literally a case of here today, gone tomorrow, with timing of the active bite window not really a factor.

Bluegills have been aggressive on mainstem rocks. This happens every August at low summer pool levels. They will likely slide away in about 2 weeks and the “buck” bass will move in. Happens every fall.

Walleyes have been almost as elusive as perch for the past week or so–even with willowcats. They are somewhat active early & late. But with heavy fog in the morning about 70% of the time prime time is from about 6-8 p.m–and getting shorter as daylight is too.

This has been the best summer for SMB in YEARS! Once again, rocks are a key this time of year. The frog bite for LMB has been okay, with largies also hitting Beavers in running sloughs next to current edges. Personally, I’m not keen on chasing these green carp…unless that’s what a client wants to do.

Channel catfish are also–and pretty much always–easy above driftpiles & snags in 6-12 fow over a hard sand bottom with a moderate current. This pattern should continue until water temps drop to about 66 degrees.

Bigger pike have been cruising mainstem rocks in deeper water–probably cuz there is so much food there.

The Upper Miss is my favorite water for a number of reasons. 130 species of fish. Unlimited variables in habitat & impact from weather conditions. Momentary changes in fish activity due to passing towboats. River stage. Water clarity.

It takes me an hour every single day to figure out what the River is trying to tell me. It is a democracy. the fish get a vote, too. Sometimes they vote “no”, if you’re not where they live with what they’ll eat when the polls are open. Case in point, walleyes right now. Evening bite. Cients usually wanna fish during banker’s hours.

It is Wednesday. Aug. 17,8:40 a.m. Still heavy fog in the valley. Lord willin’ I’ll be on the River by a little after 9. fun fishin’ today. Think I’ll go catch some smalljaws on East side, mainstem rocks. Start with a Pop-R if the fish tell me they’re eating on the surface. Probably switch to a Z-Man TRD tube with a snort of Liquid Willowcat if the fish say otherwise.

No such thing as a sure thing. But for the past month SMB have been pretty close. Will probably stop @ a dozen–or so–depends on what the fish tell me. Probably home by noon, regardless. 60+ yrs. as a fishin’ junkie, a couple hours to get my daily fix. My gutter is a hammock a couple miles from the river bank. Should be a perfect afternoon for a little snooze.

Get Ready for Fogust

Get Ready for Fogust

Yesterday morning I launched @ 07:10 @ New Albin Ramp to pick up clients @ Blackhawk for 8 a.m. trip. No fog until arriving at the ramp. NOrmal time to Blackhawk is about 4 minutes, enjoying the vies. Yesterday the fog was SO THICK I didn’t arrive until 07:57.

Normally morning fog is a consideration about half the time in August. This year fogust showed up mid-July. Water temp yesterday as 76–down from 82 a couple days earlier. Isuspect it will bump up again with hot weather forecast this week. But when the heat wave passes, expect temps to drop quickly to low/mid 70’s triggering fantastic fishing.

Exactly the scenario for panfish, pike & bass since the temp went down! Not so much for the walleyes. Struggled on one trip–even with willocat. Blaming a major mayfly hatch, BUT the pannies didn’t seem to mind. Bartered a couple of Northland panfish jigs for 4 nightcrawlers. Put pinches of crawler on tiny jigs fished on walleye rods and caught a respectable number of perch, gills and crappie in the last hour of the trip.

Eel grass has been a factor at times already. Sometimes you can get away from it by switching sides of the River. Sometimes you need to go to a single hook presentation with a split shot or barrel swivel about 18″ up the line to keep the bait appealing long enough to provoke a bite.

The Ol’ Miss is one of the most dynamic fisheries in North America. Character of the bite can change drastically in as little as five minutes due to a wind direction change that impacts barometric pressure, a passing towboat or a dozen other subtle reasons. This is part of the reason i love that river so much!

It takes me at least an hour every single day to figure these dynamics out. The SMART play is listening to the River and harvesting the bounty she wants to give up.

Species-specific pursuit in a waterbody that has over 130 species can be beyond challenging. Something like a major mayfly hatch can put the ki-bosh on your very best plans BUT if you listen to the River you can usually find SOMETHING to stretch your string.

I have seven open days remaining In fogust as of July’s last day. I’m not foolish enough to say that you’ll catch fish. But I will promise you’ll exit the boat a better angler than when the trip started.

Pride & unfiltered sarcasm are probably my 2 biggest character flaws. Only God’s unseen hand on my attempts at mastering the immortal Mississippi has any impact on personal humility.

Far as the other flaw goes, those who refuse to eat the flesh of the cloven hoof need not call. Chops will be busted. Witty retort is encouraged. gotta go get the boat rigged for tomorrow’s adventure

Sliding channel edge sand for midsummer ‘eyes

Sliding channel edge sand for midsummer ‘eyes

With River levels stable at typical summer pool , pitching cranks on the leading edge of wingdams is a great way to hook up. I’m a huge fan of the Bill Lewis Lures MR6 in ghost craw,chartreuse blaze & purple smoke patterns.

bait profile is generally more important than color. but in mid-summer I have better results with chartreuse blaze.

More important is varry the speed, including short pops and pauses–and doing a “figure L” at boatside. An amazing number of fish strike with < 5 ‘ of line out!

Weeds are already a factor on Pool 9. This can make cranking tough. Sometimes you can get away from most weeds by simply switching sides of the River. If this doesn’t work, adding a tiny split shot or barrel swivel 18″ above the lure can keep your bait working a little longer–sometimes long enough to hook up.

There are times when you need to go with a single hook presentation. That split shot is still a good idea!

Another presentation which seems too easy for those crafty walleyes is simply drifting channel edge, sand bottom flats close to channel marker buoys over 9-13 fow with a half-crawler on a 1/8 oz jig or –killer of killers– a willocat on a 1/0 Octopus circle sea hook 7-10″ behind a substantial egg sinker.

If you don’t have willocat you can get by with a lighter egg. a “slow death” hook is a little tweak when using crawlers which will put more fish in the boat.

If all you have is crawlers, trailing that jig with a bucktail streamer fly about 14-18″ behind the jig catches fish–often many more than the jig itself.

The crawler should appear “natural” . Not hooked through the head like you do when fishing spinner rigs. ..but still straight. Try threading a half crawler on the hook shank and leaving about an inch trailing behind the bend.

As some of you know, I’ve been having some minor health issues. A radial head fracture on my right arm kept me off the water for about 12 hours. Looks like I’m gonna get a stent or two in blocked coronary arteries soon.This will keep me off the River for five days.

Time has already been set aside for this. All trips between now and Aug. 6th will be honored–unless, of course, I croak. Still have quite a few openings in Sept & Oct if I’m still on the planet, but only plan on working 2-3 times a week to allow time to go fun fishin’.

tight lines, y’all

Halfway point of summer?

Halfway point of summer?

We’re in the middle of the July 4 weekend–the halfway point of summer. But for the past five days the River has been saying we’re a little closer to fall than that.

Heavy, heavy eelgrass hs been coming down the River mainstem since Wednesday. On 4 of the past 5 mornings there has been heavy fog across the valley. Both of these conditions are what you would expect in mid-August. Not the 4th of July. maybe this weather trend will pass. The next week or so will be interesting.

River pool is at typical summer level, with zero significant rise or fall forecast for the next 10 days It’s still about a foot above low pool–when wingdam rocks start poking up. Being able to read the water is much more important than keeping eyes glued to electronics. About 95 % of fishin’ happens beyond the channel markers. Experience teaches the wisdom of returning to the channel at a 90 degree angle from where you were fishin’. Anything less might result in a trip to the prop shop.

With ever increasing siltation in the pool sandbars are where they never used to be just beyond the channel–especially on the downstream end of islands. Sometimes for up to several hundred yards.

I try to teach clients the difference between deep water riffles and sandbar shoal riffles–once again, something even the best electronics won’t show you at 50 mph!

The deepwater side of a sandbar shoal can hold a PILE of walleyes and smallmouth. Conventional wisdom says the marble-eyes shouldn’t be in < 4 fow on a sunny day. Not all miss River wallys got this memo.

With weed growth at summer peak bluegills and perch are hanging in 4-6 fow. Crappies are suspended in this depth and a little deeper under American water lotus cover and < 4′ down in wood where the deadfall has at least 10 fow under it. Crappies also suspend over sand just beyond the channel. Those folks with LiveTarget/LiveScope have an advantage in finding these fish. Since i don’t have this technology seeing little feeding dimples on the surface is how I have to locate these fish. A Blakemore RoadRunner “buffet rig” is locked and loaded to confirm the dimples are crappies. then it is usually ‘leave the livewell open’ time.

Walleyes are pretty much a sure thing if you have willocats. For those who don’t the #BillLewislures MR-6 in ghost craw has been a killer. Fish will also hit a Bomber 6A in root beer pattern. I doctor some of ’em with purple glitter nail polish across the back. I call this the Caitlin pattern. I do the same thing with that new #Northlandtackle Rumble Shiner. Since this lure has a longer profile I call it Lea pattern. The Lea pattern Rumble shiner tracks a little deeper. Great for fishing the deep water riffle end of a wingdam–if the weeds don’t get in the way.

SMB fishing has been spectacular with Chug Bugs & PopR’s from first light until sunrise on quiet mornings. ..not exactly fish-a-minute action. Only because those red-eyed demons don’t give up for at least five minutes.

Morning fog can put a crimp in fishing topwater on mainstem rocks for safety reasons. Use EXTREME caution when navigating in the fog!

My guide business is off at least 50% this summer. I’m blaming Putin’s dumb brother, Brandon. Have multiple openings if you wanna fish over the next couple months. I always fish hard. Put at least 110% into my work. BUT I’m also an old guy. Don’t give a **it if i work or not. When guiding i seldom pick up a rod unless its to teach a technique or prove we’re over fish. So if i’m not guiding I get to fish until I’m sick of fishing–pretty much every day. 4 hrs. or 20-25 fish is usually enough.

Might go to the boat ramp the next couple days with a sweet tea just to watch the clown act. But the fish don’t have to worry about this ol’ dawg til Tuesday morning.

Stay safe out there!

The stability of serious summer

The stability of serious summer

Water temperatures on both the River mainstem & in running sloughs has stabilized at 79.5 degrees–give or take a degree or two. River level is also steadily dropping. Pool 9 is now at typical summer levels.

Change is CONSTANT on the Mississippi. But major summer thunderstorm gullywashers not withstanding, the changes between now and mid-August will be minor.

Over the past week a great deal of weed growth beyond the channel has gone from submergent to emergent, good news for anglers on several fronts as it is easier to more quickly dial in fish patterns.

Free-floating weeds made trolling tough this morning for walleyes. Casting cranks on the rocks and pitching plastics in weeds were both effective. I can’t imagine a slow moving plastics presentation without first dousing the lure with LIQUID WILLOCAT. “Da Juice” also has profound effect on SMB

This morning was another day of ‘fun fishin’. i’m only guiding 2-3 days per week this summer. Sometimes less than that. I could blame the easy schedule on Putin’s gas price hike–but that would be a raft of crap.

The cost of travelling to the River from any distance has more than doubled this year. guides have had to raise prices due to an increase in fuel prices. Disposable income for recreation has definitely been squeezed. However, recreational use of the River is still pretty much nuts on Friday & Saturday. Much to be said for doing something besides fishing from noon on Friday to 2 pm on Sunday–unless chasing panfish or catfish.

These pursuits are more “catching” than “fishing” now that we’re in a solid summer pattern.

My typical day is getting on the water at first light and catching a few walleyes. When the bite slows about 7 a.m. I head for east side shade and catch a few bass. When the summer sun gets downright HOT about 9 a.m. its time to head for woody areas which have shade until noon and catch a few gills and crappies.

Catching pannies on my 9′ St. Croix panfish rod is far beyond SWEET.usually plum tuckered out by 11 a.m., time to head home for a light lunch and nap–a noon-time experience since BFD days which is almost as sweet as that St. Croix rod.

If its not too hot/humid in the evening, maybe get out and catch some SMB on topwater baits or maybe a Zman Ned rig. Off the water before sunset to avoid the skeeters.

Maybe a beer or sweet tea with the Admiral as the sun goes down. Then rise about 4:30 and get up to do it again. amen.

this world will make you crazy if you let it. Honestly not much we can truly control. Within this realm is a trolling motor. Hokay. 10 minutes past nap time. adios.

Summertime & the fishin’ is easy

Summertime & the fishin’ is easy

First, gotta clear the air: I’M STILL GUIDING! Three persons have asked in just the past 2 days. Yes, I broke my arm 2 weeks ago, BUT each arm has 3 bones. I only broke one bone in one arm–certainly not a ‘lame’ excuse to quit fishin’!

Bluegills, bass & crappies have been done spawning for awhile and are all in serious summer pattern. The River is dropping steadily to normal summer pool levels. Pretty much all boat launches are open and accessible with mostly dry feet.

Walleyes on mainstem rocks are now oriented where you would expect them to be at normal summer pool levels.

The 10 foot contour is a good range to target when pulling cranks in the running sloughs. #ZMan chatterbaits w/a paddletail trailer–and of course #RatLTraps have been great walleye weapons with weed growth in many areas which hold ‘eyes less than 2’ submergent.

Water clarity in these areas is 3’+. I’ve actually gone to a floro leader for many presentions here. There is an aricle about chasing ‘eyes in the weeds which should be out today in the DRIFTLESS JOURNAL newspaper.

Pike & LMB are hammering the daylights out of black buzzbaits now. SMB have been garwoofling Chug Bugs over both rocks and weeds when the water is calm.

A Ned rig with a #ZMan TRD has been a killer on SMB near the slack water/current interface all over the pool. I think the NED is just the lure du jour–senkos, heck TUBE JIGS, still catch fish…its just the Ned & his cousin Neko are new kids on the block.

To reiterate: YES I am still guiding! Several open days between the 19th & end of June–also in months which follow. Truly thankful that i live here–less than a mile from work–from my perspective here on the River between gas prices & the economy I believe a hard rain’s a gonna fall before summer’s end. Our nation is at a tipping point.

Take a look at proposed “red flag” laws about to infringe our 2nd Amendment God-given rights. See that little hammer & sickle up in the corner of the red flag?

It’s gonna be 97 today. 4 out of 5 voices in my head say ‘stay home and clean the guns”. Don’t forget sun block and HYDRATE out there on the water!

All Species on the Chew

All Species on the Chew

After several days of sharing walleye wisdom with clients and a couple of pros in the upcoming nat’l walleye tourney out of PdC this Thurs/Fri I was ready for some multi-species fun fishin’

The River continues to fall towards normal summer pool. Water clarity is good. Temp is 66-70 degrees. The walleye pros should have a very productive tourney Action on main channel rocks is picking up and the bite is good back in the sloughs, too. Just about any way they try to catch ’em should work.

Started the morning chasing panfish. After about 30 minutes I had caught bluegill, perch, crappie & punkinseed. Switched over to bass. Trifecta of SMB,LMB & WB was pretty easy. LMB on Z-Man Chatterbait, SMB on the chatterbait and ned rig, WB mostly on a 1/4 oz. Big Dude blade bait now being offered by B-Fish-N Tackle. The chatterbait & blade both fooled pike. Had a couple of crawlers left over. Threaded a half-crawler on a 3/32 oz pyrokeet Precision jighead and drifted a running slough in 9-11 fow, picking up walleyes, sauger, a channel cat & of course–a sheep.

There are over 130 species swimming in Pool 9 . It isn’t unusual to catch 4-5 different species in a day on the water. Think a dozen different species is about the biggest variety I’ve ever boated in a single half-day trip.

Finally had enough. My broken rt. elbow was killin’ me. Knew it was time to go home and ride the horse that threw me ; my mesh hammock. My foot got tangled when trying to exit the hammock a week ago. Spun around and did a mumblety-peg elbow plant on the hard ground 3′ below.

Right after this blog is posted I’m gonna pour another glass of sweet tea and face the swingin’ demon which threw me to the ground. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do…

High water til mid-June

High water til mid-June

Access is the biggest challenge to catching fish on Pool 9. High water and ‘wet foot’ policies at almost all boat launches will be part of the program until at least mid-June

Fluctuating water temperature have been a real curve ball this year. On May 27 temp on the mainstem was 62 degrees–down from 65 a week earlier, down from 72 the week before that. Found some 65 degree water yesterday which will warm again to 72 quickly. The bluegill spawn will be right on schedule!

With cool water temperatures the catfish bite has been ‘challenging’. Channel cat are NOT in the channel–they are now swimming where there is essentially bare ground at normal summer pool levels ;back in the trees.

Most ‘active’ gamefish fish are holding in < 10 fow–in many cases less than 3 fow. Weed growth is for the most part submergent. A Z-Man Jackhammer chatterbait has been my go-to lately…even for walleyes.

On May 27 my client caught a foot long RAINBOW trout on a Rat-L-Trap MR6 in ghost craw pattern. The fish was swimming in a mid-pool running slough at least 7 miles from the nearest designated trout water.

Brown trout get caught every now and then late winter, up until mid-April. But a RAINBOW? On an MR-6 in LATE MAY ?? Would have expected a salt water pelagic before a ‘bow with June just a few days away.

That’s the beauty of ol’ man River! Water clarity on the mainstem and active dunning sloughs has been really good…even better in places which load up from downstream, pushing clearer water generally north. Fished a couple places with 6’+ visibility yesterday.

Conventional wisdom says 6′ visibility and rainbow trout in almost June are two things you shouldn’t expect to see as we approach serious summer. The key to consistent success on this enigmatic water has one subliminal key: listen to the River!

This is much like speaking Pashtu or Swahili–something you’ve gotta do almost every day. uhuru sasa.



Wildly fluctuating water temp has resulted in a challenging bite this Spring. Several 4 degree drops overnite just when the River was approaching 55 degrees followed by window where it jumped 12 degrees in just 48 hrs really made things tough. BUT over the past 4 days temp has dropped to 64-66….right where it ought to be mid May

THE BITE IS ON for pretty much everything. Yesterday boated about 80 SMB, LMB, pike, walleyes, sauger and WB in just a half-day trip on Rat-L-Trap. All species feeding heavily on shad. Key was changing cadence of retrieve.

River is rising steadily toward minor flood stage. Access to most ramps is challenging. Wet foot policy in effect. BUT bluegills are now swimming on what was dry ground just a week ago…and they are AGGRESSIVE.

I was scheduled for heart surgery on 5/23. It has been postponed, so i have several open dates between now and Memorial Day.

Don’t know if this year will be like ’19 with perpetual flood conditions BUT large watersheds in the north country are belly full, so we likely won’t see summer pool for another 6 wks. at least. no matter. the fish are already wet…and they’re hungry!